SEO is a complicated business. Since the beginning of the digital marketing era, entrepreneurs from all over the world are constantly fighting over search engine rankings.

It’s complicated and complex because there are hundreds of factors and mini-factors that play a role in the ranking process that brands are supposed to follow.

Let me ask you a question. Are you well prepared to climb your website up on the ladder and seize the 1st position of Google, Yahoo, or Bing with your site or pages? Do you know what it takes to experience SEO success in 2018?

You see…the complicated thing about SEO is mostly the fact that the search engines’ algorithms are predominantly secret. The second thing is that the ranking factors continuously change for various reasons (optimization, ending exploits, new features, etc.) The main purpose of all search engines is to optimize the relevancy of their search results so that the users can enjoy a higher quality experience by finding whatever they need on the web.

How Does Google Work?

In case you’re not familiar with the basics, let me quickly explain how Google works. Well, I’m going to quote Google’s own statement:

“Google’s purpose is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

Therefore, as you may figure, Google’s most important role is to deliver relevancy through their search results. Here’s how the giant search engine operates:

  1. Google’s quick bots “crawl” the web at amazing speeds, visiting web pages on a consistent basis. These bots are called crawlers or spiders, and they help Google index websites and web pages.
  2. When the bots find optimized pages, they store and assess them (indexing).
  3. When a search query is performed, Google’s system organizes and displays the most relevant websites/web pages that are relevant to the specific term(s) that users inserted in the search bar.

Your purpose as a business is to improve your platform and web pages in such a way that Google considers them relevant, useful, and therefore worth ranking.

How Many Ranking Factors Does Google Have?

The answer to this question is vague, as nobody (except Google) can confirm the number of signals that influence rankings. The famous search engine gives only general guidelines that are supposed to guide webmasters through the process. Google has stopped detailing updates the moment people started abusing their algorithms.

Therefore, in 2018, SEO experts have managed to come up with a number: 200+ factors. Now hold on. There’s no reason to allow these numbers to overwhelm you because you are barely starting!

It’s important to note that not all of these factors have the same importance or hold the same weight. Your job as a webmaster is to acknowledge, understand, and consistently apply a variety of strategies that will lead you toward the first page of search results!

In today’s post, we’ll take a close look at 15 essential criteria of SEO ranking that every website should leverage in order to effectively play Google’s game. Sounds good? Let’s get to it.

An Accessible and Crawlable URL

The 1st SEO ranking factor I’d like to talk about is related to the characteristics of your website’s URL. Simply put, you’ll need to have an URL that crawlers will find easy to reach, assess, and crawl.

In even simpler words, Google and the rest of the search engines must be able to reach and access the URL of your pages, with the purpose of analyzing and classifying your content. You can help the crawlers by providing the following:

  • A sitemap that provides links to all of your site’s pages. In case you’re using WordPress to run your website, taking advantage of Yoast SEO plugin (it’s free) is the easiest way to build your sitemap. In case you’re not using WP, then you can leverage an free online sitemap builder.
  • A robots.txt file, which helps search engines like Google understand what parts of your website are indexable and which ones are not.

Lastly, Google has emphasized that secure websites (HTTPS instead of HTTP) are likely to rank better due to the improved security measures that allow users to browse safely on the web. In case your website doesn’t have a secure SSL, you should immediately solve the problem!

Improved Page Speed

It’s no secret that the faster your pages load the better your ranking will look like. Google has announced this signal a long time ago, and since then, webmasters are doing their best to optimize their desktop version websites as much as they can.

The reason is obvious – if a website loads fast, the user’s experience will be enhanced. If the pages load slow, the searcher is likely to exit the website, a cause that negatively affects the bounce rate of a site. If you didn’t know, the bounce rate of your website is the representation of your traffic visits. If people spend 5 seconds on a website and leave, Google perceives it as a negative signal.

Google has announced a serious algorithmic change, which will be applied starting from July 2018. It basically states that mobile speed will be a critical factor that’ll affect every type of website. Those sites who aren’t mobile optimized or those who don’t load fast enough will suffer negative ranking consequences. To find out your mobile site’s performance, use Google’s mobile friendliness check tool.

Mobile Friendliness

Considering that mobile searches have exceeded the desktop searches as of 2016, paying attention to the mobile-friendliness aspect is critical for your ranking’s performance.

Simply put, Google is now prioritizing mobile-optimized sites by offering them priority when it comes to drawing results. Therefore, if your pages are optimized for desktop mainly and a competitor’s site is optimized for mobile, the competitor is likely to rank better.

Here’s what you should check and fix in case you haven’t done it already:

  • Are you using large fonts to improve the readability on small mobile screens?
  • Are your menus well-optimized and easily accessible on mobile?
  • Is your most essential content visible and not interrupted by ads?
  • Most importantly, is your website responsive? Does it instantly and automatically resize your pages, so they can fit any type of mobile screen?

Domain Age, Authority, and URL

A reliable study from Ahrefs that covered an average of 2 million pages suggests that domains that are “alive” for less than one year are rarely ranking in the first pages of Google. Therefore, the older the website the better. In case you’ve just launched it, that’s not a reason to panic. There are hundreds of other ways to overcome this obstacle.

Your website’s authority is defined by more factors. The age of the site, the content’s quality and consistency, the backlinks that lead to your pages, and the social signals you receive are important elements that define your site’s authority. To easily identify your domain’s or pages’ authority level, you should use Moz’s link explorer tool.

Keyword Optimization

First off, Google’s algorithm relies on keywords. When people insert words into the search engine, they insert keywords or key phrases. Therefore, the keywords you choose to prioritize in your content will be critically influencing your rankings.

Keyword research is an essential activity that’ll help you identify and apply keywords in your future content. But tools are just one part of the job. The second one is you, and your ability to identify the intent behind your users’ search queries.

People are searching the web mainly to satisfy their needs and to solve their problems. The better you know and understand your target audience the better you’ll know what keywords they’re inserting in the search engine’s box. Of course, if your content is also qualitative, relevant, and comprehensive, your odds to rank for your carefully selected keywords will improve.

Long and Comprehensive Content

Google has always prioritized content, mostly because everything else revolves around content. In fact, the quality of a site’s content is one of the three most important factors that the famous search engine has officially emphasized throughout the years.

The length of the content seems to have an impact on rankings mostly because it can comprehensively detail the solutions that search users are seeking. Here’s what quality content means:

  • It contains keywords that are well-thought and well-optimized.
  • It addresses a specific problem and offers a specific solution.
  • It is easy-to-read and easy-to-understand.
  • It doesn’t contain blocks of text.
  • It has relevant internal and external links that complete the solution.
  • It is written by an authoritative figure.
  • It is informative.
  • It is highly useful and practical.

Such content will attract positive reactions from both your website visitors and Google. It’s all cause-and-effect. If people spend more time on your site, share your posts, and mention your content in different places, Google will automatically seize this aspect and will give you a boost in rankings sooner or later.

Lastly yet very importantly, you should know that Google appreciates fresh content. This means you should consistently update your website with new qualitative posts that continue to serve the users’ problems.

UX (User Experience)

Google’s now the most advanced search engine out there. Not surprisingly, it uses artificial intelligence tools that directly classify and rank pages according to the signals they leave behind. One of the main reasons for that is that the experiences that users have on different websites are extremely relevant as they signify how well a website is “welcoming” its traffic.

Here are some of the most important user experience metrics that Google consistently tracks down:

  • CTR (Clickthrough rate) – this factor represents the percentage of individuals who choose your website over others when presented with different options by the search engine. If your link is clicked, the CTR increases.
  • Bounce rate – as I’ve already mentioned, this represents the number of people who leave your website.
  • Dwell rate – this term represents the time users spend on your site or pages once they’ve gotten to it.

Therefore, the better user experience you offer the better stats you’ll have. Google won’t miss a thing, so offering your users exactly what they’re after will help you rank higher.

Backlinks

Backlinks have always been one of the most important aspects of an SEO strategy. Simply put, when more websites link back to your site’s content, it shows that you are providing value and relevance to your users. It also shows that you’re an authority in the niche and that your content is solving problems.

“There are many ways to approach a link building campaign, but the best practice is to publish consistent and qualitative content that people are likely to share. How do you come up with original and out-of-the-box content? You can use the Skyscraper technique, which revolves around searching for good content and finding twists that expand or complete the topics written.”

Note that backlinks have their quality too. If high-authority websites link to your posts, the backlinks will hold a higher value than those that come from lower authority sites. Also, there are three types of important backlinking signals: link authority, the number of backlinks, and the diversity of the backlinks.

Social Signals

A study that assessed over 23 million social shares suggests that there’s a strong correlation between search engine rankings and social media sharing. It’s important to note that Google’s official statements do not suggest that social signals are a direct ranking signal, and that could probably be true.

However, it’s easy to notice that the highest-ranking websites in Google (and not only) tend to have lots of social shares.

The logical explanation is that the more people share your content on social media the more exposure it gets. When your high-quality content is exposed, you get more chances to attract high-quality backlinks from authoritative sources. What this means is that social shares are an indirect factor that can drastically influence your SEO performance.

10.Relevant Title Tags and Meta Description

The title tag and the meta description are the first elements that Google’s users will come across once they initiate the search. By carefully crafting and optimizing these elements, you are ensuring that your pages will attract the right traffic because people will be able to clearly understand what your site is about to present.

Primary, Secondary, and Related Keywords

Keyword density is a controversial topic. Back in the early days of Google, many webmasters were exploiting keywords to rank higher. They would use a keyword 100 times and their post would rank without problems. Since then, Google got smarter and better at analyzing keywords through content.

Nowadays, it is ideal that you don’t abuse your primary keywords. This means you should keep it natural without worrying about their density.

It is also ideal that you use secondary keywords (those that are highly related to the primary ones) and also related keywords (synonyms). Believe it or not, Google is extremely advanced and it can easily identify keyword stuffing attempts.

12.Keywords in the URL, Title Tag, Meta Description, and H1 Tag

It is ideal that your title tag stars with a keyword instead of it ending with one. Even though Google doesn’t directly count your title tags and meta descriptions as direct ranking signals, these elements are extremely important because they’re seriously influencing your site’s click-through-rate.

Including keywords in the URL of your pages, in their meta descriptions, and in their H1 tags will emphasize your intent and Google will immediately notice it. There’s a lot of discussions concerning the importance of using keywords in the mentioned places, yet you should understand that if you’re not abusing them, only good things can happen.

13.Image Optimization

Optimizing your images means to improve their quality while reducing their size. By doing so, you’re not only offering your users a higher quality experience (better visual content) but you’re also increasing your website’s and page’s load speed.

On top of that, you can send relevancy signals to the search engines by carefully including targeted keywords through the images’ caption, alt text, and description.

14.Real and Correct Business Information

This is an important aspect that every local brand should pay attention to. Google’s search algorithm can differentiate online businesses from the offline ones, so if you run something off the web, you should always keep your business information real and correct. Here’s what you should do and look after:

  • List your business on “Google My Business” and on Facebook
  • NAP – this is the name, address, and phone number of your local business
  • Keep your information updated on relevant directories such as Yelp
  • Optimize for local keywords

15.Multimedia Content

Images are one way of improving the diversity and quality of your content. However, videos, graphics, infographics, memes, or another type of multimedia content are also important not just for Google but also for your traffic. You see, Google has always encouraged diversity, even in the backlinking algorithm.

The content’s diversity does not abide by the rule. When it comes to your visitors, you can probably figure out how much they’ll enjoy a long page that contains not just text but also interactive elements such as slideshows, audio, or graphics. Here are the SEO benefits of multimedia content:

  • It increases the time users spend on your website.
  • It encourages more social signals such as likes, shares, and comments.
  • It improves your brand’s reputation and trust; therefore, more people will visit you later.
  • It helps your users understand the solutions you’re offering better.
  • As a picture “speaks a thousand words”, you can use it to tell more using fewer words.

Takeaways

To master the art and skill of SEO marketing, you should first acknowledge its complexity. Then, once you did that, you can start experimenting. You should treat your SEO attempts like a journey instead of a result. Most webmasters develop false expectations because they believe that they’re in control of the game.

You can never guarantee that you’ll end up on the 1st page or in the top 3 search results. What you can do is experiment a lot, get feedback after every action, and have a lot of patience. If you manage not to give up after your first hundred failures, you’re doing it right!

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